My Etsy shop window

Sunday, 11 May 2008

A piece of history

My Nan is the keeper of this little piece of family history which I'm totally fascinated and thrilled by.

Both my mom and dad's family come from Ireland. Although my Dad's side moved away several generations ago, my mom's family are still there - she and her immediate family moved to England when she was 9. My mom was born in Dublin, but my Nan was born and raised in Cork, where her father (my Great grandfather) James Walsh was a political activist.

As a political activist he was imprisoned by the English on Spike Island off the coast of Cork. Whilst there, he made a few pieces of jewellery of which this Tara brooch is one - fashioned from an English coin.

Tara brooch (front)
Across the top, on the front of the brooch there's an inscription which we believe is a Gealic word (einead?) followed by the location and date (Spike Island, 1921?).

Tara brooch (front detail)
The back of the brooch still displays the coins year at the bottom (1903?) and most hauntingly, the image of Britannia with her staff at the top which has been doctored to look more skeletal.

Tara brooch (back)Tara brooch (back detail)
He apparently made more items which my nan's sisters were given but this is the only one that I have seen.

My nan remembers visiting her father at Spike Island when she was roughly 10 years old but doesn't remember how long he was actually held for or any other details. I got in contact with the Cork Public Museum to try and find out more and received the following information:
"Prisoners were renown for making some jewellery from coins, Irish Harps from animal bones or macramé bags. Macramé is a skilful art created by knotting pieces of thread and strings together. As your great grandfather was imprisoned on Spike Island, it is most likely he was anti-treaty during the civil war and therefore had alot of free time on his hands. Making items like the aforementioned was a way of passing the time.

If your great grandfather was interned in 1921, it would mean he was arrested by the British during the War of Independence. I do not know when exactly he was arrested but he would have been released in December 1921 when the British authorities released all IRA prisoners as part of the terms of the Treaty.

I did come across a handwritten record of the signatures of all those who took part in a Hunger Strike from August 30th to September 3rd 1921. A "James Walsh" from Cork City took part and he was located in Block A Room 18.

As for the brooch, "einead" could be an old Irish word for companionship. I am not sure why spike became "spice" but it could have been a mistake or simply a space issue. I can not identify the coin from the photo but hopefully I have given you some answers to your questions."

1 comment:

beadinbythesea said...

Wow, very interesting to have something like that in your past!
Great post!